Category: Doctrine and Covenants

Susa Young Gates and Joseph F. Smith’s Vision

The vision that we have printed as Section 138 was received by Joseph F. Smith in the last few months of his life.  Among the very first people he asked to have review the document was none other than his friend, Susa Young Gates.  In one of the excellent essays presented in the Revelations in Context book, Lisa Olsen Tait talked about Susa’s experience with the revelation.  More recently, Lisa Olsen Tait discussed more about Susa and the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead in an interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk.  What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a shorter post with some excerpts and discussion). Why was Susa one of the first people to read the vision?  Part of it has to do with her personal friendship with Joseph F. Smith.  As Tait described: Joseph F. Smith was over seventeen years older than Susa Young Gates. … They became friends in Hawai’i in 1885-87. Susa accompanied her husband, Jacob F. Gates, on a return mission to the Sandwich Islands, and their service overlapped with the time that Joseph F. Smith and his wife Julina were there, basically keeping a low profile during the anti-polygamy crusade. (Smith was a highly-wanted man due to his church leadership position and his knowledge of the records.) A few letters between them from that time survive, and, in my reading, evince a progression from friendly but formal acquaintances to deep…

Three Degrees

Language is a tricky thing. Sometimes, when someone says a word, it can mean something very different to them than it does to us. This can be particularly true when that person is from the past and the exact meaning of a word changes over time. In a recent interview with Bryan Buchanan about an article by Shannon Flynn at the Latter-day Saint history and theology blog From the Desk discussed a major example of where this seems to have happened in our understanding of the afterlife about divisions within the Celestial Kingdom. What follows here is a copost – a shorter post with some excerpts and discussion. The concept that there are three subdivisions within the Celestial Kingdom is based on one section in the Doctrine and Covenants (131). In the current edition of the scriptures, it reads as follows: “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees.” The assumption is that “celestial glory” is precisely equivalent to the Celestial Kingdom-the highest degree of glory announced in Joseph Smith’s 1832 vision (D&C 76). As it turns out, that may not be a great assumption. The word in question is “celestial”. Buchanan explained that: If we look at contemporary dictionaries (like Webster’s 1828 dictionary), “celestial” was simply a synonym for “heavenly.” In other words, Joseph Smith may have been expressing the idea that “in the heavenly glory (or just, heaven), there are three gradations.” … If we argue…

Collected Thoughts on the Doctrine and Covenants

I spent most of 2021 writing a series of posts to follow along with the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum for the Doctrine and Covenants.  I had a few reasons for doing this.  First and foremost, I wanted to challenge myself to look more closely at the scriptures, to really read and think about what the Doctrine and Covenants says and the context in which it says it to deepen my personal understanding.  Studying the Joseph Smith Papers resources around the earliest versions of the revelations and then writing about an idea or thought that caught my attention is an approach that helped me do that.  Second, there were several ideas that run through the Doctrine and Covenants that I’ve been musing on for years and wanted to take the time and effort to really collect and organize my thoughts on those topics, such as the endowment of power and the development of temple ritual.  Third, I noticed that there was a surprising dearth of literature about the Doctrine and Covenants compared to the other sections of scriptures (that’s not to say that there isn’t literature about it out there, just not nearly as much available as the Bible or the Book of Mormon), so, for better or worse, I wanted to offer my own contribution to that literature in a format that was freely available and which drew on the scholarly analyses that I have read. The results varied from…

What If …. Chad Updated the Doctrine and Covenants? Part 3

Joseph Fielding McConkie recalled that when the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve were discussing adding the documents that are now Sections 137 and 138 that Elder Bruce R. McConkie had a few other suggestions.  One was to add two Articles of Faith about the restoration of the Gospel and the Plan of Salvation (to which Thomas S. Monson good-naturedly responded: “We all know there are only thirteen Articles of Faith, not fifteen”).[1]  McConkie also suggested adding several excerpts from the Joseph Smith Translation to the Pearl of Great Price, the entire Wentworth Letter, and the Lectures on Faith.[2]  While these weren’t accepted into the official canon of the Church, Joseph Fielding McConkie indicated that these, along with the official expositions from the early 20th century known as the Origin of Man and Father and the Son, Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse, and Joseph Smith’s Sermon in the Grove, were still regarded as scripture by Elder McConkie.[3] I agree with some (though not all) of these suggestions, which dovetails nicely into my hypothetical series about what I would do if I were asked to update the Doctrine and Covenants.  Reviewing from last time, the goals I have in mind in this theoretical project are that updates to the scriptures must do the following: Increase faith in and worship of our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ. Teach core doctrines with power and clarity. Comfort the weary and inspires…

What If …. Chad Updated the Doctrine and Covenants? Part 2

Continuing my hypothetical series about what I would do if I were asked to update the Doctrine and Covenants (and still keeping in mind that I have no plans to actually do so and I’m 110% sure the Church doesn’t have any plans for me to do so either), we come to looking at editing documents currently included in the Doctrine and Covenants.  In the last couple decades, we’ve had an explosion of research into and availability of the root documents behind the Doctrine and Covenants in the form of the Joseph Smith Papers Project.  This provides us with the opportunity to examine sections and to work to bring them into greater conformity to what Joseph Smith said and did, as well as some potential opportunities for expanding sections here and there.  Along those lines, I will examine Section 130 and Section 131.  On the other hand, there are a few opportunities to edit sections that do not reflect current understandings in the Church (I’m looking at you, Section 132).  There aren’t a huge number of edits that I would make, so the aforementioned three sections with be the focus of the post. Reviewing from last time, the goals I have in mind in this theoretical project are that updates to the scriptures must do the following: Increase faith in and worship of our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ Teach core doctrines with power and clarity Comfort the…

What If … Chad Updated the Doctrine and Covenants? Part 1

I told you I wasn’t done with the Doctrine and Covenants yet.   Follow me, and ponder the question: What if? It’s the year 2023 and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has decided to produce a new edition of their scriptures.  For reasons that are unclear, the project was picked up by the most unlikely creature imaginable:  Chad Nielsen, of Times and Seasons.  Challenged to produce a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, Chad goes to work, planning out what he will do. Now, in reality, I know full well that the Church doesn’t care about any suggestions I might have and that I would be very far from their first candidate for a project like that.  That is why I opened by presenting this as a Mormon multiverse story (sorry about using the moniker, the alliteration was just too good to pass).  This series of posts is entirely for fun and also entirely hypothetical.  It is, I will also note, a logical outgrowth of my spending the entire last year focused on the Doctrine and Covenants and then important documents in Latter-day Saint history.   Disclaimer out of the way, now, what would I do if I was tasked with an update to the Doctrine and Covenants?  I might start out by laying out guiding principles, looking at the updated hymnal guidelines for inspiration.  Excluding the guideline about inviting joyful singing, the relevant guidelines from…